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10 Designers Share their Experiences with the Gender Gap

At the “Women in Design 2017: Women Working Together” conference, 10 top female design executives shared how they create positive experiences for female designers.
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Women dominate the graphic design field, yet only 11 percent are creative directors, and three percent of creative directors across all fields are women. Even Adobe, a top design company, shows its vast gender disparity on its diversity page, with 29 percent of women working in the global workforce, 25 percent as people managers, 24 percent as leaders, and 20 percent as technical employees.

Designer Fund, an investor in tech startups, seeks to help close this gap, asking 10 design executives from top companies at Women in Design 2017: Women Working Together how they create positive environments for female designers.

Abstract Director of Design Heather Phillips led a panel alongside four other panelists: Jamie Myrold from Adobe, Nancy Douyon from Uber, Bo Lu from Pinterest, and Laura Naylor from Youtube. The panelists described their relationships with colleagues, the company-level programs that boosted their careers, and practical tips for female designers in the workplace.

During the panel, these leaders explained how they climbed the corporate ladder and shared their experiences with gender barriers. Lu described how, despite her hesitations, a female mentor convinced her to apply for a leadership role. Today, Lu works as the Creative Lead for Pinterest. The company has an online forum with a Creative Women’s room, which featured a thread about the inner critic, something Lu felt validated her feelings about self-worth.

“A lot of women had some variation of ‘I don’t feel I’m good enough’ or ‘I don’t feel like I’m doing enough,’” Lu said. “It was really empowering to hear that women I see as confident and capable, have these voices too.”

In an interview with Design Week, Construct Founder Georgia Fendley explained how a lack of self-confidence widens the gender gap.

“I think the challenges in design are similar to those in other sectors, the biggest being self-belief,” Fendley said. “Women are just as capable, hard-working and talented – but sadly they don’t always recognise this in themselves.”

According to Adobe, leadership roles for female designers are limited, but women can apply the “shine” theory – a term Ann Friedman coined after she studied how President Obama’s female staffers amplified each other – when they encounter competition. The shine theory states that when one woman shines, all the women around her also shine. The panelists discussed how this theory applies to their experiences and how women can help each other earn positions instead of engaging in fierce competition.

“It [the shine theory] finds itself in the idea of mutual female support, and it promotes women lifting each other and other women up instead of tearing them down,” Heather Phillips said.

Designer Fund also reports that these leaders led workshops with different topics: nonviolent communication, using their voices for important causes, mitigating barriers in the technology industry, creating a collaborative and inclusive design team culture, and global perspectives in the workplace and hiring for diversity.

The women also discussed how the likability penalty – the idea that accomplished men are more “likable” than accomplished women – creates challenges for women who seek executive positions, yet aren’t naturally assertive. The panelists advised attendees to remain true to their personalities.

“I tried to fit in, and it wore me out. People had to start to take me as I was,” Douyon said.

Female designers and creative directors have a long way to go before they achieve equality with men. However, events like these bring awareness to the cause and empower creative women to fight for leadership roles.

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